how many times a day feed a cat

Have you ever wondered how many times a day you should feed your cat?

A reader contacted me regarding her cat being overweight and not being able to lose weight. She mentioned that she feeds her cat very small amounts of canned food six times per day, based on how cats eat in the wild. This inquiry prompted me to do some research on how many times a day to feed a household indoor cat.

How cats in the wild eat

I read about this a long while back and didn't pay much attention to it. There are a lot more recent studies and information on the topic, and there are new recommendations! Cats living in the wild and finding their own food eat up to 8-10 times per day. The typical prey of cats in the wild are mice, along with birds. They also eat bugs, which might play a part in them eating 8-10 times a day. 

How most cats are fed

Most domesticated indoor cats are either free-fed dry food or fed twice per day. Since July 2019, I feed my adult cats raw food twice per day. Prior to this, I fed them raw for one meal and canned for the other meal. 

The widely recommended schedule for kittens up to six months old is four times per day.

From age six months to one year, three times per day is the recommended schedule.

According to the information I found, eating larger twice a day meals and eating too fast can cause vomiting.

A cat's hunger and desire for food are stimulated by the smell of food. Thus, free-feeding is not a good idea, even if you want to give them more meals per day like a cat in the wild. With free-feeding, many cats will overeat food that is available 24/7 out of boredom. In addition, cats are attracted to the scents manufacturers spray on dry food to make it palatable, which can keep drawing them back to the food dish. Some cats are addicted to the carbohydrates in dry food. And finally, dry food is too low in meat protein to fully satisfy your carnivore. This can lead to a cat wanting more and more to feel satiated. Free-feeding is directly linked to obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, heart and joint problems.

The way we feed our domesticated cats does not match their natural physiological design of a carnivore.

Feeding cats the way nature intended

Quite a few resources suggest feeding the very minimum of three times per day for the pet parent that is gone all day at work (me being one of them). This schedule would be in the morning, when you arrive home from work, and right before bedtime.  Some resources suggest feeding five times per day. This does not imply three to five full servings, as this will lead to weight gain. You will have to distribute the total daily amount of food between these three feedings, or however many feedings per day you choose. 

Please note: With smaller servings at each of three to five meals, you may see a higher activity level and possible weight loss in your cat. (Think about how full and inactive you feel when over-eating as opposed to eating lighter and having more energy.) If your cat is already at a good slim weight and then begins losing weight with smaller meals spread throughout the day, you will need to slightly increase the amount fed each at meal. It will be some experimenting as their bodies adjust to the change.

Consider the cat's activity level when deciding how many times per day to feed

You must also consider your cat's activity level in accordance to how much you are feeding if you want to mimic a feeding schedule more closely related to your cat's natural physiological design.

In regards to activity level, there is one huge difference between a cat in the wild and a domesticated indoor cat

The cat in the wild expends a large amount of time and energy chasing and hunting its prey. They also expend energy getting away from predators, be it animal or humans. They have a lot more territory to run, climb and jump.

Our indoor adult companions have their food handed to them and expend very little energy, if any at all, while waiting for their meal to be served. They expend no energy to obtain their food when free-fed.  

When we want to lose weight, there are three components involved (unless one has a thyroid problem involved), which apply to cats as well:

  • Eat better quality, nutritious, healthy foods
  • Eat less
  • Be more active

Activity (exercise) is just as important for indoor cats as it is for us

Since our kitties are safe and sound indoors with little activity, it's important to recreate the hunt for them. Playing (I call it play-hunting) with cats two times per day is ideal. Just 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient for adult cats. I am guilty of play-hunting with my cats only once per day, and sometimes not at all on my really long work days! Strive for five days a week of playtime. I've noticed that most cats aren't interested in play-hunting every day. 

Reduce boredom for indoor cats

Researchers and feline behaviorists say that feeding them more like they are physiologically designed to eat and recreating the hunt for them will reduce boredom, frustration and depression. This can help avoid unwanted and unhealthy behaviors such as over-grooming, pacing and causing destruction in the home. It can also prevent excess weight gain or assist in losing excess weight. 

Try tossing cat treats straight up or across the room for your cat to jump and chase down. There are cat puzzle feeders, which slows down a fast eater and promotes foraging for food like they would do in the wild. Be careful in choosing puzzle feeders. The compartments are often very small. Cat whiskers have a lot of nerve endings, and they hold their whiskers back when eating out of containers that do not have a wide base. This is believed to cause whisker fatigue. To counteract this, cats may use their paws to scoop canned food out, and this can be messy for them and you.

Change feeding locations to mimic hunting

Researchers also recommend feeding our cats in different locations. If they were hunting, they would be roaming all over the place looking for prey. My cats are so programmed to go to their feeding spots. They run to it before I get there. I feed my cats in separate locations with doors closed, because some eat faster than others and will steal food from the others.  This change will cause some confusion at first and will take getting used to.

Update December 2019: I tried changing the feeding location of my cats. They ended up running around confused, getting between my feet, and tripping me. We tried this for two days, and I said to heck with it. 

To summarize:

  • Feed the total daily amount of food divided up into 3-5 meals per day.
  • Feed healthier options, such as canned cat food or raw food (homemade or prepared).
  • Increase your cat's activity level, such as play-hunting to reduce boredom and satisfy their natural instincts to hunt.
  • Change up the feeding location.
How Many Times A Day Should You Feed Your Cat?

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